What You Should Know Before Becoming Homeless
Commentary by Andy Pope
You should know that people will not treat you as a full human being with needs, rights and sensibilities akin to those of the rest of the human race.
You will be continually dehumanized in ways that will confuse you, anger you and seriously affect your self-esteem and your sense of dignity. By and large, you will either be faced with severe judgment by those who assume they are innately superior to you, or with a pathetic show of feigned empathy that will come across more like condescension than true compassion.
You will often be lectured by those who have never been in your shoes and have no idea what your life is actually like. These people also will never listen to you because they assume you have nothing to say to them that is meaningful.
You will be kicked out of your beauty sleep by cops, security guards, property owners, business owners and, worst of all, other homeless people. You might as well divest yourself of all remnant of worldly possessions — cell phones and laptops included — because they are all going to be stolen anyway.
At food services and “feeds” you will be herded around like cattle, and orders will be barked at you as though you were a criminal in a jailhouse.
Your 1st and 4th Amendment rights will routinely be violated by rookie cops who wake you up in the middle of the night and immediately search your backpack for drugs. During these violations, the cops will also run your “criminal record,” since it is also assumed you are a criminal.
They will be surprised to find out that you are not a criminal, since obviously anyone who loses their house in a foreclosure or their rental in an Owner Move-in Eviction must be a criminal. After they do find out you are not a criminal, they will callously tell you to “move on” and sleep somewhere else. When you ask them, “Where else can I sleep?” they will of course provide no answer, since obviously there isn’t one.
Severe sleep deprivation will eventually set in, and it is likely you will become a bit delusional in your thinking. Your confusion will constantly disguise what your true issues are. Tired of harsh judgment, tired of false sympathy, you will rack your brains out trying to figure out what is wrong with the way people approach you, and what is lacking in their attitude toward you.
Finally, you will realize that what is lacking is respect.
They will not respect you; they will not treat you as an equal; they will ask you inane questions that do not pertain to your situation at all, and then will not bother to listen to your answers.
You will get tired of hearing people ask you about the weather because the weather will be the least of your worries.
You will ultimately conclude that the worst thing about being homeless has nothing to do with hygiene, sleeplessness, malnutrition, weather conditions, difficulty sustaining basic needs, difficulty focusing on anything at all other than your day to day survival, or any of the other things that make homelessness miserable for most people.
The worst thing about being homeless, you will undoubtedly conclude, is the way that you are treated.
Andy Pope is a freelance writer currently residing in Moscow, Idaho, where he is a member of Moscow First Presbyterian Church. His work on social justice has appeared in Classism Exposed in Boston, Berkeleyside in Berkeley, California, and also in the Bay Area newspaper Street Spirit, where his regular column, Homeless No More, encourages those making the transition from homelessness to housing. An accomplished pianist and lifelong musical theatre person, Andy is also the author of “Eden in Babylon,” a musical about youth homelessness in urban America.